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Long COVID: mechanisms, risk factors and recovery

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Mark BakerORCiD, Dr Demetris Soteropoulos



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2022 The Authors. Experimental Physiology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The Physiological Society.New Findings: What is the topic of this review? The emerging condition of long COVID, its epidemiology, pathophysiological impacts on patients of different backgrounds, physiological mechanisms emerging as explanations of the condition, and treatment strategies being trialled. The review leads from a Physiological Society online conference on this topic. What advances does it highlight? Progress in understanding the pathophysiology and cellular mechanisms underlying Long COVID and potential therapeutic and management strategies. Abstract: Long COVID, the prolonged illness and fatigue suffered by a small proportion of those infected with SARS-CoV-2, is placing an increasing burden on individuals and society. A Physiological Society virtual meeting in February 2022 brought clinicians and researchers together to discuss the current understanding of long COVID mechanisms, risk factors and recovery. This review highlights the themes arising from that meeting. It considers the nature of long COVID, exploring its links with other post-viral illnesses such as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, and highlights how long COVID research can help us better support those suffering from all post-viral syndromes. Long COVID research started particularly swiftly in populations routinely monitoring their physical performance – namely the military and elite athletes. The review highlights how the high degree of diagnosis, intervention and monitoring of success in these active populations can suggest management strategies for the wider population. We then consider how a key component of performance monitoring in active populations, cardiopulmonary exercise training, has revealed long COVID-related changes in physiology – including alterations in peripheral muscle function, ventilatory inefficiency and autonomic dysfunction. The nature and impact of dysautonomia are further discussed in relation to postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, fatigue and treatment strategies that aim to combat sympathetic overactivation by stimulating the vagus nerve. We then interrogate the mechanisms that underlie long COVID symptoms, with a focus on impaired oxygen delivery due to micro-clotting and disruption of cellular energy metabolism, before considering treatment strategies that indirectly or directly tackle these mechanisms. These include remote inspiratory muscle training and integrated care pathways that combine rehabilitation and drug interventions with research into long COVID healthcare access across different populations. Overall, this review showcases how physiological research reveals the changes that occur in long COVID and how different therapeutic strategies are being developed and tested to combat this condition.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Astin R, Banerjee A, Baker MR, Dani M, Ford E, Hull JH, Lim PB, McNarry M, Morten K, O'Sullivan O, Pretorius E, Raman B, Soteropoulos DS, Taquet M, Hall CN

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Experimental Physiology

Year: 2023

Volume: 108

Issue: 1

Pages: 12-27

Print publication date: 01/01/2023

Online publication date: 22/11/2022

Acceptance date: 24/10/2022

ISSN (print): 0958-0670

ISSN (electronic): 1469-445X

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Inc


DOI: 10.1113/EP090802